Harissa is a North African chilli-based paste, which is used for stews, soups, grilled meat and flavoring couscous. It comes from Tunisia, although nowadays it’s identified with Moroccan cuisine. It’s also very popular in Libya and Algeria – although the ingredients are slightly different. The most important component is chilli, mixed with garlic, caraway seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and oil – modern version have lemon juice, smoked chilli, dried mint leaves, and sometimes even tomato purée in them. The original, Tunisian harissa, does not include cumin, whilst the Moroccan version does, instead of caraway.
You can buy Harissa paste in a jar in most supermarkets and delis, but proper Harissa is always freshly made. So if you if you want add authentic flavours to your cooking, do make your own mixture which is actually really quite easy. Here is a simple and reliable recipe:
Simple Harissa paste recipe
- 8-10 dried chillis
- 3 cloves of garlic (minced)
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground caraway seeds and / or 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
How to make Harissa
- Put the chillis in warm (preboiled) water and soak for one hour. Drain, and squeeze the water out of them.
- Put the chillies and spice in a mortar and using a pestel rush into a thick, coarse crushed paste.
- Spoon the paste into a small, sterilised jar. You should get about 4 Tbsps.You can pour some olive oil on the top.
- Keep the jar in the fridge. The paste should be used within a month.
- If you want the paste to have a more smoky flavour, use cumin, coriander and careways seeds (½ tsp of each). First dry-fry them then, when cooled, grind the toasted seeds into a powder before adding the soaked chillies.
- If you want to make a unique Harissa blend, why don’t you add a couple of these ingredients to your paste: lemon juice, preserved lemon, fresh or dried mint, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato purée, paprika, fresh coriander, rose petals, rose water.
- Harissa makes a nice present for friends and family (for example at Christmas time!)